Imported from the British ITV network (where it’s less imaginatively called Strangers) over to Amazon Prime Video, White Dragon is, at least initially, a fascinating and evocative mystery thriller. Sadly, it runs out of steam well before the end of its short eight-episode season.
John Simm (from the original and much superior British version of Life on Mars) stars as Jonah Mulray, a political science professor whose fear of air travel has prevented him from joining his wife Megan (Dervia Kirwan) on any of her frequent business trips to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, he’s forced to set that phobia aside when he’s informed that Megan has died in a car accident overseas.
Not long after arriving in Hong Kong to claim the body and set his wife’s affairs in order, Jonah discovers that Megan was hiding a tremendous secret from him. The whole time she was married to him, she also had a second husband, former cop David Chen (HK superstar and legend Anthony Wong in his first English-speaking role). In fact, she’d been married to David for 18 years, compared to Jonah for just three, and had an adult daughter named Lau (Katie Leung from the Harry Potter franchise). Needless to say, Jonah is dumbstruck by this news and the realization that he barely knew the woman he loved.
The sound of gunshots at the end of a delayed voicemail message that Megan left at the moment of her death clearly suggest that she was murdered. When Jonah brings this to the local police, they take his phone and edit the message to remove the gunshots, insisting that he must have imagined hearing things in his grief. Almost immediately, Megan’s body also goes missing from the morgue due to an alleged administrative error. Because he’s not an idiot, Jonah quickly realizes that something is being covered up.
As a result, he delays his return home in order to find out what really happened to his wife. When attempts to enlist the help of other police and a seemingly supportive consulate attaché (Emilia Fox) lead nowhere, Jonah is forced to work with David. As they dig into the case, they discover that Megan’s death may somehow be part of a conspiracy involving powerful political candidate Xiaodong Xo (veteran character actor Kenneth Tsang). However, the revelation that David was fired from the police force during a corruption scandal leaves Jonah unsure how much he can trust the man. Could Megan’s other husband be involved in her death? Surely, she wouldn’t have gotten involved with Jonah in the first place if her marriage to David had been happy.
Season Verdict / Grade: B
White Dragon shares a lot in common with the Kate Beckinsale vehicle The Widow, which likewise recently started streaming on Amazon. Both series come from producers Harry and Jack Williams (The Missing) and feature plots that center on a white British citizen who travels to a foreign country to investigate a missing or dead spouse. I haven’t gotten very far into The Widow yet, but it seems to be the less interesting of the two.
Perhaps the strongest asset of White Dragon is its setting. Hong Kong makes a consistently fascinating and visually arresting backdrop for the mystery. The story is steeped in a rich, exotic atmosphere. I think it’s safe to say that John Simm is also a far better actor than Kate Beckinsale and his character is the more compelling of the two shows. However, Anthony Wong has less to do in a role that asks him to stifle most of his natural charisma.
Disappointingly, the intrigue of the early episodes wears thin over time, and the mystery ultimately seems overly simplistic and a little half-baked. Jonah’s understandable indignation turns into annoying hot-headedness and irrationality (he continually forces his way into situations that he’s totally unqualified to handle), and the plot shortchanges David pretty badly at the end.
Even at just eight episodes, I felt like the show ran its course a couple earlier. On the other hand, with a finite ending to the story, the series has enough positive attributes to merit a binge.